Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You”

Dear Readers,

I’m sorry I’ve left you book-less for a few weeks now. For several weeks I was slowly making my way through Angela’s Ashes, by Frank McCourt. It was one of those memoirs that was terribly sad and hard to read at times, but also had its heartwarming and hilarious moments. It also made me very grateful for my warm, dry bed.

Next up was Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, which we chose for our December book club. This one came out in 2015, but the book and author are still being buzzed about and I’d heard great things.

The Plot: Everything I Never Told You is a novel about an Chinese-American family living in a small Ohio town in the 1970’s. While the story starts off with a big, dramatic event – the oldest sister, Lydia, is found drowned in a nearby lake – the rest of the book is focused on putting the pieces back together. What happened to Lydia, and why did it happen? It’s not a mystery as much as a family novel. Yes, we want to know what happened to Lydia, but we also want to know more about the inner workings of the Lee family.

My Take: I have mixed feelings about this one. The writing was excellent; Ng used an omniscient narrator who floated seamlessly among the characters. The setting and characters were rich and interesting. My only qualm, however, is that it was just gave me an overall melancholy feeling. The story works through the many ways we miscommunicate with one another. How can we be so wrong about the inner-most thoughts and desires of those closest to us? Can we ever really know someone, even after living with them for decades? That thought depresses me, to be honest.

This book reminded me of Gone Girl, without the things I hated about Gone Girl (gratuitous violence and irredeemable characters). The themes that felt similar to me were the miscommunications, lies, and the acts that some of the characters kept up. The overall “icky” feeling I experienced while reading, which made me doubt my own sincerity and that of the people around me, was also similar to how I felt reading Gone Girl. This is one of those books that makes you want to reach in, grab several of the characters by the shoulders and shake them, yelling “Stop being stubborn! You’re so wrong!”

I do think Everything was redeemed by characters who had good, albeit misguided, intentions. The character development and insight into the experience of growing up mixed race or Chinese-American in the 1970’s was also compelling. I think most readers will be able to empathize with the feeling of being “different” in some way during their life, and how isolating that can be. I also liked the structure of revealing the big “action” in the beginning, and then hitting rewind to delve deeper into why Lydia’s death happened.

The Gist: I would recommend Everything for its excellent storytelling and rich characters and setting. I’d just include the caveat that it won’t exactly cheer you up, if you need cheering up. It’s still worth the read, in my book. It might even inspire you to be a little more honest with those you love, and work to let go of any past hurts that you’re still clinging on to.

I’d be interested to read Ng’s new novel, Little Fires Everywhere. Has anyone read it?

Until the next book!


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